Study Guide

Flowers for Algernon

By Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon Introduction

It's a tale as old as time, or at least as old as Warner Bros.: a super-smart lab mouse and his sidekick scheme to defeat their captors and take over the world in Flowers for Algernon. Pinky and the Brain, anyone? Okay, so our main guy, Charlie, is a little more into surviving an experimental surgery than making minions bow to his greatness—and he also isn't a mouse (though his sidekick is)—but author Daniel Keyes is certainly interested in what happens when you futz around with intelligence of the artificial variety… and let's just say it's not all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, he was so interested in telling Charlie's story that he expanded it from a short story in a science fiction mag to a big honkin' book.

Anyway, take a look at when the book was published: in 1966, right smack dab between Leave it to Beaver and radical hippies peacing out all over the place. People with disabilities are slowly gaining civil rights, but discrimination still occurs on the regular.

So where does Charlie fit into this equation?

He's a lonely guy who thinks smarts will skyrocket him to popularity, but there's a major reality check heading his way—super-intelligence isn't exactly the status quo, after all. And for a decade known for radical ideas, there sure is a lot of emphasis placed on conformity.

If you're looking for some real 1960s flavor, check out Charly, the 1968 film based on Flowers for Algernon. You get plopped right into the debate on tinkering with intelligence while sampling some sweet 1960s cinematography. And if Charly's a little on the heavy side, TiVo Pinky and the Brain for some comic relief.

What is Flowers for Algernon About and Why Should I Care?

It's 2:00AM the night before a major anatomy exam, and your brain is maxed out with studying. Flashcards are flashing before your eyes, the Red Bull is wearing off, and you're about to pass out on your computer keyboard from sheer exhaustion.

"If only I could cram for a little longer," you think. That A+ is within reach—it's an achievable dream. But before you know it, you're actually dreaming.

You're dreaming of a mad scientist who promises you the ultimate brain, perfect for acing tests and impressing teachers. All you have to do is undergo a little experimental surgery. "Are there any catches?" you ask (your dream self is so naïve).

"Well… we experienced some setbacks with Patient 1, a guy named Charlie," the scientist says. "And we could come up against some of the limits set by physics. You'll definitely gain intelligence, but we're not exactly sure what you might lose."

Hmm, you think. What are you willing to sacrifice for a sharper brain? It sounds like you won't know what you lose until you go under the knife. You're about to ask the scientist more about this Charlie fellow when you snap out of the dream, a bit of drool dribbling down your chin.

"It's too late for ethical questions," you say to yourself as you shut the books for the night and prepare to log some serious face time with your pillow.

Tsk, tsk… It's never too late for ethical questions, which is a mighty good reason to read Flowers for Algernon.

Flowers for Algernon Resources

Websites

Why'd You Write It, Danny Boy?
Everyone wants to know where this Charlie guy came from, and Daniel Keyes has the answers.

Movie or TV Productions

The Weirdly Spelled Version, Charly
This 1968 classic hit it out of the park. Check it out if you want to see some sweet 1960s clothing.

It's No Lifetime Movie: The Made-for-TV Charlie
This made-for-TV version is Flowers for the new millennium. We're thinking it's time for another remake.

The Original Charlie
Fresh from 1961, here's the telecast that appeared before Flowers for Algernon was published. It's even got a different name: "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon."

Articles and Interviews

How To Make Your Own Algernon
Mr. Keyes got quite a lot of fan mail after creating Charlie and Algernon, so he finally wrote a short book about the experience of publishing it.

Can We Get An Alternate Ending?
Not surprisingly, everyone wants a happy ending. But Daniel Keyes' publishers really wanted him to change the story. Keyes talks turkey to Locus Magazine about holding his ground.

Algernon Gets Political
Who'da thunk that Algernon would get brought up during election season? Jon Stewart gives a little screen time to our furry friend.

Video

An Epic Love Story
Major spoiler alert: Alice and Charlie make like Romeo and Juliet and part forever in this final scene of the 2000 made-for-TV version of Flowers for Algernon.

Audio

Just Call Him Nostradamus
Daniel Keyes chats about how his book might have predicted the future. He even has something to say about Doogie, the engineered mouse.

Images

The Whole Gang Is Here
Check out some photos of a stage production of Flowers. Nemur, Strauss, Burt, and Charlie, in the flesh.